Whenever there is discussion about Blacks in Mexico, it usually centers on them being ex-slaves brought by the Spanish. This is primarily true, if the discussion is post-Olmecs, the first civilization in the Americas, whereby Afrikans heavily influenced the indigenous culture, or were the original Olmecs themselves. However, there is another story just as amazing. We pretty much know of, or heard of the Haitian Revolution and its significance. How many of us know about the war of liberation that took place in Mexico, led by an ex-slave, Gaspar Nyanga, preceding the Haitian battle by 200 years?
Yanga, as he is also called, was born in Gabon, West Afrika. He was brought with some 200,000 Afrikans to work the sugar cane fields and mines controlled by the Spanish during the 16th and 17th centuries. The conditions during this time are often overlooked, including what resulted from it.
Dr. Asa Hilliard gives us a picture of what was entailed during that tumultuous period. “For nearly four hundred years, the slave trade, colonization, segregation, and racism-highly sophisticated systematic strategies of oppression-have been the massive political and economic forces operating on African people. These forces have affected the culture, and socialization processes, and the very consciousness of African people.” (The Maroon Within Us.)
In spite of this, Afrikans in Mexico were able to hold off the Spanish for some 30 years. Their struggle for independence is one of the most courageous untold stories in American history. To survive, they had to retreat to the mountains to get away from Spanish troops, periodically capturing Spanish supply wagons for provisions. Fed up with this constant interruption, the Spanish sent 500 armed men to put down these acts of insurrection.
“Nyanga and hundreds of men living in the highlands of Veracruz battled against the troops sent to capture them by order of the Spanish Crown. With hopes of causing enough destruction to force the Spaniards into negotiations that would help protect his people, Nyanga sent a message via a prisoner captured by his men. This message asked that a free homeland be granted upon fertile soil for his community of self-liberated Africans and African descendants to settle.
“At the end of a battle that suffered many casualties on each side, Nyanga and those under his care arranged a move to the lowlands of Veracruz. All African descendants and their offspring who had liberated themselves prior to 1608 were granted legal freedom to settle in this town, San Lorenzo de los Negros. In exchange, Nyanga assumed the position of mayor and agreed to pay taxes to the Crown as well as turn away any enslaved peoples seeking refuge within the city.
Thus, Nyanga and his townsmen became the settlers of the first free town for Africans in the western hemisphere, later renamed Yanga, for its forefather.” (“De Florida a Coahuila.” From Florida to Coahuila documentary.)
Today, Mexicans of Afrikan descent have lived in approximately 40 villages on Mexico’s Pacific Coast in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero for almost 300 years. This area is called La Costa Chica (Short Coast). It is a 200 mile long region beginning just south of Acapulco, in the state of Guerrero, and ending near the town of Puerto Angel in the state of Oaxaca. Mexicans of Afrikan descent have also lived throughout the state of Veracruz, where many Olmec items were found.
Afrikan villages too small for a map, along the Atlantic Coast of Mexico, reflect Afrikan names such as: Angola, Guinea, Mozambique and Cerro Del Congo (Congo Hill).
This only reflects a part of world history that needs greater exposure in today’s historical literature. The story of Afrikans all over the world has yet to be told.
– Dr. Kwaku’s class, Afrikan World Civilizations, with all new lessons, is this Friday, 7-9 p.m. , at 4343 Leimert Blvd. (corner of 43rd Place and Leimert Blvd.). See www.drkwaku.com for details.
DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of Our Weekly.